Metabolic Conditioning and Fat Loss (why it works)

Its resolution time…you know… that time of year where trainers see an influx of clients who usually want to lose weight after being inactive. The challenge facing all trainers is retaining these new clients as they often disappear after a few month. Retention will come down to two things… relationships and results. Lets focus on results. 
This is where it’s natural for us to talk about the use of metabolic conditioning. Metabolic conditioning is a “newer” term used in the fitness industry that is often misused and misunderstood. For some reason, it seems everyone has their own definition and that their “metabolic” workout is the best.
Let’s start with a basic definition of metabolic conditioning: Metabolic conditioning is a form of training in which the participant shifts from periods of near maximum levels of exertion to a lower intensity multiple times. The objective of metabolic training is simply to keep the “system” as a whole under prolonged periods of stress (i.e. heart, lungs, etc.) while cycling through various muscle groups and energy systems. Rest periods should only be long enough to perform the next maximal or near maximal bout of exercise. With this form of training, ALL of the metabolic pathways are used. You are not aerobic or anaerobic, you are both. You will spend periods of time in the aerobic zone and periods of time above the lactate threshold.
Why Metabolic Conditioning Promotes Rapid Fat Loss
The Mechanism
While we all know metabolic conditioning aids in fat loss, most fitness professionals don’t understand the mechanism.  In this section we will discuss some of the science driving the fat loss. Metabolic conditioning results in a high caloric expenditure relative to the work performed and promotes anabolism (fat burning and muscle building).  While this form of training results in high short-term caloric expenditure, it’s the “after-burn” effect (the endocrine system’s response) that has a more profound impact.
Acute Caloric Expenditure
Let’s start with the very short-term impact. Heat is generated to a significant degree during this style of training.  There are no tools readily available outside of a laboratory to measure the energy lost as heat.  However, researchers have shown that up to 40% of the energy burned in a high intensity workout cannot be accounted for because of the inability to measure this heat loss.  This means you burn a 33% more calories with this style of training than would be predicted through calorie counters and EPOC calculations.

The “after burn” effect 

EPOC refers to the elevated oxygen consumption after a workout is complete and can result in significant fat calorie usage for hours and days.  EPOC is triggered mainly by the release of stress hormones (Catecholamines).  A large Catecholamine surge coupled with exhaustive exercise will push the body to generate large amounts of lactic acid, which triggers the release of growth hormone (HGH) and Testosterone.  This combination of hormones drives the EPOC “after-burn” (which can last more than 36 hours).  This mixture of Catecholamines with HGH and Testosterone creates an accelerated state of metabolism which mobilizes stored glycogen and fat and repairs damaged muscle tissue. This “hormonal cascade” is released under very high intensities whether it is the stress of heavy weights, exhaustive sprinting, or high repetition lactic acid generating movements.  In order to achieve the desired impact, all these factors need to be included with shorter rest periods that are just long enough to recover and generate the same intensity again.
Battling Ropes Metabolic Conditioning
A simple way to construct an effective workout is to think about movement first.  Movements that use the most muscle, especially lower body muscles, are great choices. Additionally, choose exercises with long ranges of motion.  A pull-up makes more sense than a biceps curl.  Further, a pull-up uses a large range of motion and more muscle mass is involved. Finally, choose exercises that are simple.  Simple will be relative to your client, but the idea here is to pick exercises that don’t require a lot of steps or complex neuromuscular skills.  The use of multi-step and complex exercise is a double edged sword.  If there are too many steps in the exercise or if it is too technique dependent, it may be difficult to reach the anaerobic threshold.  However, if you do reach the anaerobic threshold it will likely be very difficult to perform the exercise with quality movement.
Here is a simple pairing of exercises:
Kettlebell Swing
The swing is a pulling exercise that uses a significant amount of posterior chain muscle mass. The push-up is a multi-joint, upper body, horizontal push exercise.  Both are relatively simple to learn and perform.  Both lend well to the performance of multiple reps and sets with short rests. Both can be scaled up and down for different fitness levels.

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